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Remembering Michael: Park bench dedicated in memory of Oltman Middle School student

Tom Manning (left) and friends and relatives take photos of a new bench at WAG Farms Dog Park in memory of Manning’s son, Michael, who died May 6 at age 12.1 / 3
Michael Manning, who died in May, loved to run around WAG Farms Dog Park with his grandfather’s dog. Michael also had a dog, Snowball, pictured in a memorial plaque. (Bulletin photos by Scott Wente)2 / 3
Fay Manning leads friends and relatives in a balloon release in memory of her son, Michael. The 12-year-old enjoyed going to WAG Farms Dogs Park in Cottage Grove with his grandfather. The family used funds donated after Michael’s accidental death in May to pay for a new bench at the park.3 / 3

Michael Manning loved the WAG Farms Dog Park.

The boy would go to the Cottage Grove park with his grandfather, Robert Manning, and his dog. Michael and the pup would run around in the open field at least once a week, sometimes more frequently.

So the dog park became a logical spot for a memorial to Michael, an Oltman Middle School student who died May 6 at age 12.

Tom and his wife, Fay, said they wanted to pay tribute to their son and to say thank you to the community for supporting them after their son’s death. Amid spotty rain showers on Saturday morning, the Mannings were joined by relatives and friends as they dedicated a decorative bench in Michael’s name at the dog park.

“For a 12-year-old boy, he just loved this place,” Tom said of his son.

The park bench sits beneath a group of trees at the top of a sprawling, sloping field in the park on Glendenning Road. It was paid for with memorial donations after Michael’s death.

After dedicating the bench, the group moved down the hill and in honor of Michael released green and black balloons. A strong breeze swiftly swept the balloons away.

“Look at that,” Fay said, an arm raised to the sky as her smile turned to tears.

The Mannings said they would like to do more for the dog park. If additional money is raised, they want to add mulch to the bench area and to a trail that winds through the park.

Fay said they also are trying to raise awareness about how Michael died because they are concerned other parents may be in the same position they were prior to their son’s death. Fay said Michael died accidentally in his bedroom after choking himself to experience a temporary euphoric feeling. A medical report concluded his death was due to asphyxiation.

The Mannings only learned of the act, popularized among youth in part due to information on the Internet and social media, after Michael’s death.

“It’s been going on for years and we didn’t have a clue,” Tom said of the dangerous activity.

Fay said they have been talking to other parents in the community and doing whatever they can to raise awareness.

“I wanted to make something positive come out of a tragedy,” Fay said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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